Salt & Pepper

6th and Fitzwater Streets
(215) 238-1920

Robert Reilly is living the life of. He’s taken over ownership of a former luncheonette-lousy-looking shebang, and turned it into a neatly trimmed Bella Vista  shebang-for-your buck restaurant. Reilly himself has the brackish bearded face of a Dutch Master’s self-portrait. His head seems to have longitude without latitude. With hair parted down the middle, and an attached pony-tail of sorts, his visage is almost angelically corpulent, but most calming and inviting.

He seemingly enjoys kissing and hugging the neighborhood regulars, grasping the hands and waists of those he doesn’t know, and he contrives to offer a supererogatory welcome that would give Perrier-Starr type restaurateurs urticaria.

Salt & Pepper’s light green tiles with a honeydew melon hue pervade the walls.  Your eyes follow to fifty short candle-wicks all aglow adjacent to the cooking area, as if what’s being openly prepared there ought to offer heavenliness.  Large glass containers line the area, filled with a cornucopia of whole onions, lemons and limes, recreating an extremely modest local-ingredient Garden of Eden.  Overhead, halogen track lighting focuses upon Sean Ford, the chef (formerly at Pumpkin) who meanders through his pots, pans and dishes as if he were trying to be devilishly sizzly, noisy and brash.  He’s never out of sight nor hearing from any of the two dozen or so seats in this cantankerously cozy establishment.

Each table is covered over by crab-house brown bag paper, cut to fit, and adorned with a votive candle. A white tile floor provides surface enough for black-backed wooden chairs whose seats are propped by black cushions.

While your brought-from-home wine is being opened, offerings of amuse bouch (avocado-chive skinless dumpling dots) are extended upon baby spoons.  Breads are concurrently made available with side containers of herb-loaded olive oil redolent of sage.  Service is sage as well.

Appetizers on the winter menu not to miss:

Seared Scallops, Citrus Salad, Aged Balsamic ($9.75).  Two enormous sea-divers are seared perfectly golden on top, and lightly at bottom, in the method preferred by chefs in the know.  Therefore the scallops remain pearly and glistening throughout, crisp to the fork’s first touch, and bursting with flavor in one’s mouth.  They rest upon a bed of citrus orange and grapefruit slices emboldened by a drizzled balsamic reduction.  One’s plate is adorned artistically in swirls of the vinegar to complete.   Ford has built a powerful pick-up.

Butternut Squash Soup, Braised Short Ribs ($8).  A large white bowl is vertiginously filled with soup the color of dawn, upon which has been drawn a happy face with a spotted balsamic smile, a nose of de-boned short-ribs and cheeks of croutons.  A meaty flavor adds strength and robustness to a vegetarian base, all of which is sweetly savory and toothsome.  The ribs are as buttery as their surroundings, melting inadvertently in a  tongue-touch.  The crunch of croutons thereafter makes the food three-dimensional, keeping your jaws and mind, swallowing and sighing in syncopation and liquidity.

Wild Mushroom Tart, Frisée, Smoked Bacon, Truffle Vinaigrette ($10).  Imagine a three-inch diameter pie with scalloped crustiness, upon which a bevy of sliced and oil-softened wild mushrooms lie bare.  Purse pinches of properly positioned salad greens as a cover up so that the mushrooms are decently unembarrassed.  Then surround the lot with dabs of vinaigrette in which chopped truffles swim abundantly, adding a dollop or two atop, complemented by smoked bacon bits, drippings and oil.  The mix is astonishingly soothing and cool on the palate, yet as woodsy and smokey as a charcoal-baked brick-oven pizza. 

I will not mention entrées such as the Braised Pork Shoulder, Shitake Polenta, and Broccoli Rabe ($19), nor Grilled Skirt Steak, Fingerling Potatoes, Chimichurri and Spinach ($23) except to say that each takes Winter by the throat, and strangles every bit of fidgety frightening frigidty out of it, cloaking your senses warmly with rib-sticking meals meant to be heated and hearty.  One complaint: the skirt steak should be ordered from the butcher specifically as “skirt steak #1,” a thinner much more succulent and tender end of the loin piece.  Notwithstanding, these marvelous renditions are inventive and enviable.

I must discuss the Fish of the Day, which happened to be Grilled Swordfish ($22).  A pompous cross-hatched huge portion of swordfish is propped up on a bed of steaming and creamy mashed potatoes.  The throne-like mound is surrounded by cut morsels of Brussel sprouts, two French fries and an undercoating sauce rich with mushroom munches and a bacon bacchanal.  The fish needs a steak knife to cut its seared flesh precisely, as if it were a filet mignon, because that best describes its texture.  Allow the mash and munch to pass between your lips in concert with the fish, and topple your taste buds with the bacon.

Spring is around the corner.



Copyright 2007 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back